From the moment Brian Doelger learned there was an opening for a superintendent on Shelter Island to replace Christine Finn, he knew he had to apply for the job.
Following his interview with the Board of Education, he said Sunday, “I really wanted it. It’s a dream for me to come back there,” he said.
The Board of Education statement announcing his appointment credited Mr. Doelger with having “a wealth of knowledge, impeccable references, exceptional leadership qualities and vision and a grasp of Shelter Island culture that will allow him to hit the ground running.”
He officially starts his job on the Island August 1 at a salary of $190,000.
If there is any downside to the job, it’s the 90-minute commute Mr. Doelger will face from his Kings Point residence. His wife Meghan is a Stony Brook nurse, and the couple have been looking for a place that would put them nearer to Shelter Island, between their respective jobs.
His four years on the Island — he left in August 2014 — as a social studies teacher ingrained in him a love of the school and the community. It’s more than a school, Mr. Doelger said. “It’s really the center of the community.”
The Island’s small classes and emphasis on social and emotional learning, which is growing in importance in larger districts, has always been a hallmark of education on Shelter Island, Mr. Doelger said.
What took him from Shelter Island was his desire to move from teaching to administration. He earned a doctorate degree at Dowling while moving to Patchogue-Medford, the district where former Shelter Island superintendent Michael Hynes had gone. Mr. Doelger had worked with Mr. Hynes, helping to restructure curriculum on Shelter Island.
Mr. Hynes appointed him assistant principal and then principal of the Saxton Middle School. Completing three years there, Mr. Hynes encouraged him to get administrative experience where he would also have an opportunity with elementary school teachers and students.
The first job he interviewed for was in the Middle Country School District, where he became principal at the New Lane Elementary School. Then, just five months ago, he transferred to the Riverhead School District as director of professional personnel.
He described Riverhead Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez as totally supportive of his interest in applying for the Shelter Island job. The people of Riverhead are wonderful, Mr. Doelger said. As for the superintendent, he added, “She’s the best.”
But Shelter Island loomed large in his mind and heart.
“I am a little older than I look,” Mr. Doelger said, to those who might think he looks too young to assume such a post. He’ll be 40 in December.
While the district has undergone some changes under the leadership of two other superintendents since Mr. Doelger left five years ago, he’s ready to put his own mark on the job and looks forward to a long tenure in the district.
His strategic plan for his first 100 days on the job will be to rekindle past relationships and meet as many people in the school and the community who have arrived during the past five years. “I’d love to hear what everyone thinks as to what is great and what can be improved upon,” he said. He plans meetings and a study of data and may survey the community.
“I will conduct a strategic analysis to report to the Board of Education and community where we are as a district,” Mr. Doelger said. I’d like to zone in on certain areas such as our academic program, budget development, special education and academic intervention services.”
He also wants to provide staff with “deep and meaningful professional development,” targeted to their grade and subject specialty that will have everyone on the same page with respect to goals.
“I want our kids to come to school to have a great time while engaging in deep learning,” Mr. Doelger said. His focus will be on “whole child education,” where children’s physical, emotional, academic and social needs are met.
“Shelter Island is an amazing place and community,” he said. “I know how special it is and realize how important my job is due to the uniqueness of the place.”